THE UNFOLDING JOURNEY is a new blog written in association with Legacy Genealogy.

This blog is a blend of disciplines that reveal the rich texture of culture and history that surrounded your ancestors' lives, as well as your own. We will take you beyond just the names, dates, and places to give you the "back story" for the reasons your ancestors thought what they thought and did what they did. We invite you to also visit us at the Legacy Genealogy facebook page at http://facebook.com/legacygenealogy

Thursday, November 29, 2012


Three weeks and counting, we are drawing nearer to the date predicted by some as the “world’s end.” This cataclysmic-event phenomenon grows with each passing day.

The world will absolutely come to an end, someday . . . but it won’t be on December 21, 2012. Human life on Earth will end eventually too. While it’s true there are threats all around us, none are expected, by scientists, to happen next year. Following are some of the theories proposed by world-enders.


Most pundits of devastation point first to Mayan Prophecies in their calendar, which ends on 12-21-12, as some sort of proof. In spite what you may have heard, the ancient Mayans did not generally engage in prophecy and their calendar does not end in 2012.

For the short term, they used a “Calendar Round” which lasted 52 years (just slightly longer than the average human life span at the time.) and was repeated over and over again. For longer periods, they used a “Long Count” calendar that lasts 5,126 years. The current Long Count does terminate in 2012. It began in 3114 B.C. which the Mayans considered the beginning of the current world age. While this date may have been identified as the beginning of the Mayan culture, it certainly is not the beginning of the world. They had another calculation (called a Distance Number) that is ignored by new age theorists. It is added to the Long Count calendar. This actually extends their calendar several thousand years beyond today. 

Most scholars of Mayan culture agree that the end of the current Long Count did NOT signify the end of the world for the Mayans. They believed that there were older ages before the current one and there would be more ages after it. Most historians contend that books professing that the Mayans predicted the end of the world are fabricated on very little evidence.


There is no evidence in academic writings that any of Nostradamus’ quatrains predicted a specific event in any way other than in vague general terms. In spite of the claims in books and films, there are no Nostradamus quatrains that the world will end in December 2012.


Some end-of-world theorists argue that a massive solar flare in 2012 will cause the magnetic poles of the Earth to reverse, producing a collapse of our magnetic shield for a period of time. The Earth will then be exposed to massive cosmic radiation that will cause the extinction of all life. The magnetic poles have reversed many times in Earth’s history; the last time was 780,000 years ago. There is no fossil evidence that a magnetic flip has ever led to large scale extinction. Scientists believe that if a magnetic shift were to happen sooner rather than later, it would take place between 3000 and 4000 A.D.; and that it would be disruptive but not catastrophic.


Some fear that a magnetic field shift will lead to a shift of the poles themselves which will tilt the Earth’s axis. The result would be that the Earth’s crust will stop spinning west to east but possibly north to south. These events taking place in weeks would cause massive earthquakes and tsunamis across the planet. This kind of polar tilt did happen about 800 million years ago but the 50 degree tilt took 20 million years to complete. This is an eternity in terms of human existence and would probably not even be noticed by us, if we existed at all.


There is a theory circulating that a massive planet (five times the size of Earth) is on a collision course with us and will pass close or hit the Earth in 2012. Some people call it Nibiru or Planet X. If it existed, Nibiru has never been detected. In fact it was allegedly implanted telepathically in the head of a Nancy Lieder by extraterrestrials. And she predicted it would destroy earth in 2003. It didn’t happen. No legitimate scientist argues for the existence of Nibiru. If a planet that large existed, we would already be able to see it. This is total nonsense. But for fun, check out the 2011 film “Melancholia” which depicts the event.


Some new age authors have linked 2012 with the alignment of the Earth and Sun with our galaxy’s equator. This does in fact happen every 2,000 years, without incident. Years ago this was called the “Age of Aquarius,” a time of peace and enlightenment. This alignment does not occur on a specific day (or year) but over a period of 36 years. Also, this arrangement last occurred in 1998. Sorry hippies, you missed it.

Whatever happens on December 21, 2012, if anything, does not appear to present any global danger. If we are wrong, we will publish a complete apology on December 22nd .

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


In 1848, James Wilson Marshall discovered gold on the banks of the American River in California. He was supervising the construction of a sawmill on the Sutter property. Remarkably, his discovery was met with little interest at first. Early alleged discoveries had been disappointing. Nine days later the treaty ending the war between Mexico and the U.S. was signed and California was ceded to the United States. Neither government knew about Marshall’s discovery. If they had known what was about to happen, peace negotiations may have gone differently.

The Great California Gold Rush was about to begin. The little port town of San Francisco (population 812) exploded. Ships carrying thousands of novice miners and merchants began to arrive. Fields were abandoned half planted, houses were deserted half built. By the end of 1849, California’s population grew from 12,000 to 100,000 of which 32,000 came by ship (plus 3,000 deserting sailors) and 42,000 came overland. You were considered a “49er” whether you were a miner or not.

Life was hard in the mining camps of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Homesickness and intense loneliness plagued the miners who were separated from their families and friends. They sought ways to escape the harsh life in the gold camps, and do almost anything to relieve the tedium of their work. So what was it that the 49ers did for fun?

Drinking and gambling topped the list of fun activities of nearly every miner. Most mining camp gambling halls were not much more than canvas stretched over poles. They served liquor at inflated prices. Every kind of card playing and betting was allowed, and the miners who had luck in finding gold would spend thousands of dollars on games of chance. They believed that the supply of gold would never run out. Even young boys would be allowed to place bets. Gambling also included shooting billiards or ten-pin bowling. The stakes were high and fights were frequent.

Miners in some camps formed social clubs. One famous club was the “Clampers.” They kept no membership records; they were too busy having fun. Their primary function was to recruit new members, charge them a large initiation fee, then drink up the proceeds during the initiation ceremony.

The spectator sport of “Bear and Bull” fighting appealed to many. Admission was charged to each match where a bear (often a grizzly) would be chained close to a bull in hopes of seeing the animals engage in combat. The two were usually interested in avoiding each other however. Once, a frightened bear broke loose from its chain and scurried up a nearby tree. The tree was filled with miners not willing to pay the admission charge. The miners scrambled, fell, or jumped and the bear had the tree to himself within seconds.

On Sunday evenings, the miners would visit the dance houses and gambling halls; or gather to watch Dr. Collier’s Troupe of Model Artists, consisting of scantily clad women. Most of the women were not selected for their beauty but for their stamina. To meet the “fancy women” one had to journey to San Francisco.

Some itinerant musicians travelled to the camps, and a few canvas tent theatres were built. Entertainment was humble. The miners would form their own performing all-male companies to take a stab at the classics.

But the large saloons and theatres existed some distance away, in Sacramento or San Francisco. The vaudeville-like playbills could feature musicians, singers, actors, an opera, or possibly a Shakespeare play. The Eagle Theatre in Sacramento was the focal point for regional entertainment. Lola Montez, Edwin Booth, and Lotta Crabtree earned the largest audiences. During the rainy season, when the adjacent river flooded, those patrons in the orchestra pit seats would be treated to a bath in addition to a show.

Occasionally missionaries tried to bring godliness to the mining camps lamenting that “the utter recklessness, the perfect abandon with which they drink, gamble, and swear is altogether astounding.” They didn’t make much difference. It wasn’t until the arrival of miners’ wives and other female relatives a few years later that brought an end to the unruly activities of gold rush entertainment.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


On May 10, 1869, Leland Stanford hammered a golden spike downward joining the rails of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroads. The event occurred at Promontory Summit, Utah, and signified the completion of the world’s first transcontinental railroad. It connected mid-west America with the Pacific coast. Seven years earlier the decision to launch the project had been finalized when Abraham Lincoln signed the Railroad Act on July 1, 1862. The idea of a transcontinental railroad had been talked about for 30 years but controversy about the route, the choice of builders, and how the government would fund the project could never be resolved.

Three different routes were proposed. Because a railroad would be invaluable to the states and territories it crossed, each route had its own group of supporters. The “northern route” through the Dakotas, Montana, and into Oregon was dismissed quickly as snow and winter weather was thought to be too extreme. The “southern route” across the New Mexico Territory and around the bottom of the Rocky Mountains was attractive but because the Civil War was being fought, the Federal government could not allow the railroad to be located so near the Confederate stronghold in Texas. The “central route” through Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada held promise but there was reluctance to build it across the Rockies, and weather might still be an issue.

Several groups of potential builders were considered. After some political wrangling, two parties were clearly in the running. A group of investors in California were financially prepared to move forward (although no group would be able to finance the entire project without government sponsorship). It was led by familiar names - Collis Huntington, Mark Hopkins, Leland Stanford, and Charles Crocker. You cannot travel around California without encountering institutions immortalizing these families. These men formed the Central Pacific Railroad. In the east, financier Thomas Durant worked some suspicious stock deals and promised political patronage to become a player. His group formed the Union Pacific Railroad.

The Federal government proposed a lucrative financing package. They would pay the builder $16,000 per mile over level terrain, $32,000 per mile over uneven ground, and $48,000 per mile in the mountains. Additionally, they would transfer to the builder 10 square miles of government land (adjacent to the railroad line) for every one mile of track laid. The Railroad Act specified that the central route would be followed, that the Central Pacific and the Union Pacific railroads would be the builders (each was required to build 50 miles of track per year), and the funding would be guaranteed at the rates above.

In 1863, the Central Pacific started laying track beginning at Sacramento and moving eastward toward the mountains. At first they made great progress but construction slowed near the Sierra Nevada’s. Because of the terrain and the winter snows, the railroad needed more workers. They hired immigrant workers from China by the thousands. Most of the work was laying wooden ties and attaching the rails to them with spikes. All of the work was done manually. It was also necessary, moving eastward, to construct tunnels. They had to be blasted using black powder. The danger and the working conditions were severe but the Chinese workers distinguished themselves by building 15 tunnels. The largest was 1,659’ long, 32’ high, and 16’ wide. It was also necessary to have communications during the construction so telegraph lines were built alongside the tracks, matching then mile by mile. While in the mountains, the average progress was about one foot per day. After completion of the Central Pacific portion, some Chinese workers returned to China, but others sent for their families and settled near the San Francisco Bay area, and throughout the west.

The Union Pacific’s start was delayed until 1865 due to the Civil War. Once they got started at Omaha, Nebraska, movement was swift across the prairie. Most of the railroad’s labor was supplied by veterans of both the Union and Confederate armies, and recently arriving Irish immigrants. Later, when the Union Pacific approached Utah, the Mormon Church contracted to supply the labor to build track across that territory. 

Things changed, however, when the railroad reached Indian land, and progress slowed. The Native tribes saw the construction as a violation of their treaties with the government. They sent war parties to raid the camps of the laborers. The Union Pacific responded by hiring hunters to kill the Buffalo, the Indians primary food source, to force the tribes to move on and out of their way. It’s the sad and well known story of the Iron Horse changing the lifestyle of the plains Indians.

The Central Pacific Railroad laid 690 miles of track over the torturous terrain of the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountain Ranges. The Union Pacific laid 1,087 miles of track, avoiding most of the mountains but having to deal with hostile Indian Nations along the way. The two builders did not always take the most direct route however. By wandering about, they received more money and land grants from the government. One consequence was that their route did not pass through the two largest cities of the region, Denver and Salt Lake City.

The two builders finally met at Promontory Summit Utah. The transcontinental railroad was one of the most significant technological accomplishments of the 19th Century. It allowed trade and development to move from the east coast to the west coast, accelerated the population growth of middle- America, and immediately shortened the cross country trip from six months to one week. But, it was also a factor in the decline of Native American land and culture.

While Stanford drove in the final spike, telegraph operators on scene clicked once for every strike of his hammer. Each individual click was sent to both the east and west coasts simultaneously. As soon as the joining of the rails was complete, a message was telegraphed out. It consisted of a single word - “DONE.”

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Here is another strange tale that comes out of the mysterious era of World War II. Almost seven decades after the war, there exists persistent accounts claiming that the Nazis were building an army of intelligent, talking dogs to defend the Third Reich. They saw in their dogs an ally almost as intelligent as humans. There is some evidence that they gathered “educated” dogs from all over Germany and tried to train them to speak. The goal was to have the dogs work alongside S.S. officers conveying messages, guarding prisoners, and spying on the enemy. 

The German interest in animal intelligence began long before the Nazis however. Early in the 20th Century, a research institute near Munich conducted studies on human-animal communication. They devised various experiments to confirm canine intelligence, including the possibility of mental telepathy between humans and dogs. Many animal psychologists were convinced that dogs were capable of abstract thinking.

In 1905 Germany, Don the Speaking Dog became a sensation. While begging for scraps under the family dinner table, he was allegedly heard to say “Haben! Haben!” (German for “want”) followed by “kuchen” (for cake). He also said “ja” for yes and “nein” for no. Later, Don put together complete sentences that some said were not barks but distinct speech. Another dog, named Rolf (pictured here), also attracted German thinking about animal intelligence. His owner claimed that the dog could communicate by tapping out letters with his paws. Rolf was said to be interested in poetry, mathematics, and philosophy; and even communicated in languages other than German. Rolf once tapped out that he wanted to join the German Army because he hated the French.

During the 1930’s, a “school for talking dogs” was founded in Leutenberg, Germany, called Hundesprechschule Asra. It was founded by Margarethe Schmidt and named after her dog Asra. It wasn’t so much a school as it was a trained animal show. She took her trained dogs around to different towns where they would perform. One person who saw her show claims that the dogs could tell time, describe people, and correct misspellings. One of her dogs was asked who Adolph Hitler was, and is said to have replied, “Mein Fuhrer.” While her dogs tried to vocalize human words, they were more successful in communicating by using a coded system of barks or ringing a bell to get their message understood. 

Now it is well known that Hitler was a dog lover; he had two beloved German Shepherds named Blondi and Bella. He was often pictured with his dogs. He disapproved of hunting and was occasionally a vegetarian. Nazi beliefs advocated the strong bond between man and nature, and specifically with animals. Their regime passed tough animal protection policies. Mistreating your pet could be punishable by two years in jail.

Hitler became aware of the Hundesprechschule and asked Margarethe Schmidt to demonstrate her dogs’ talents for the German military. The show apparently was impressive, and Hitler ordered the S.S. to investigate the potential for training talking dogs to be used in the field. There is no question that the S.S. was looking for military applications.

A 2011 book by scientist and author Jan Bondeson, called “Amazing Dogs: A Cabinet of Canine Curiosities,” includes an in depth examination into the subject of Nazi dog training. In it, Bondeson says, “I’m sure the Nazi generation of animal psychologists genuinely thought they’d tapped into a hidden innate intelligence within many animals. It’s very easy but entirely wrong to mock their findings, as the film footage appears extremely compelling.”

Hundesprechschule Asra became a Nazi-sponsored research center into human-canine communication. There were a few successes, but the goal of creating talking and reasoning dogs fell short. If there was any attempt to create a “super dog” for the war effort, nothing concrete came of it. Bondeson also said, “There is no evidence the work ever actually came to fruition and that the S.S. was walking around with talking dogs.”

So seriously, why were the Nazis unable to get the canines to talk? First, dogs’ vocal mechanisms are not suited for producing human speech. The biology is all wrong. But more importantly, the perception of canine intelligence may be an illusion, or at least over rated. It’s an easy thing to misinterpret. Dogs are overly eager animals that try very hard to please their masters; and we, deep down, want to believe that they understand us and can communicate with us on a level higher than they actually can. Even today, researchers try to teach sign language to chimps with some success but, while they may comprehend meaning, these primates are not able to use language with proper structure.

We can still have fun with this story. Here are parody lyrics to a popular tune of those times (“Don’t Forget to Remember”).

“Talking dogs - a strange find;
what goes through the canine mind?
Largely surveillance was the way to go.
Single syllable words to talk,
training courses the dogs would walk;
then encouraged to tell what they did know.”

It appears that even though Nazi scientists may have tried to create an army of talking, machine-gun carrying dogs, they failed to do so. It was just one more legend from World War II. There was no “Furred Reich.”

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


About 200 million years ago, a single land mass existed on the surface of the earth, called Pangaea. It was a super-continent surrounded by a super-ocean called Panthalassa.  Because of plate tectonic activity, Pangaea began to break up into the continents we know today. The Americas and Eurasia drifted apart (and other continents also broke away) over the next 135 million years, and it was nearly complete about 65 million years ago. The final stages of the break up are still occurring, however, in the Red Sea and on East Africa’s Rift.

Most modern plant and animal species evolved on one continent or another, only occasionally occupying more than one at any time. Human beings also evolved. After migrations across land and ice bridges, modern human civilizations developed in distinct ways on different continents.

As these long isolated societies grew, it was inevitable that contact with people on a different continent would occur. Because of our prevailing “European-centric” perspective, the beginning of serious physical and cultural exchange is considered to begin with Columbus’ journey to the New World. This mass exchange of goods and ideas has come to be known as the “Columbian Exchange” beginning in the 16th Century and extending through the 19th Century. The way of life for peoples on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean would be changed forever as exploration and commerce crossed the ocean. Nomadic Native-American lifestyles turned toward domestication, and Eurasians developed new industries with the raw materials from the Americas.
The Columbian Exchange may be the single most important event in the modern history of the world. It largely determined what language you speak, what nation you lived in, and why you eat the food you do. It has been said that, “Spanish soldiers did less to defeat the Inca and Aztecs than smallpox did. That Divine Providence did less to bless the Puritans with good health than their own immune systems did.” The Columbian Exchange ultimately determined who would live and who would die.

The traded items that comprise the Columbian Exchange are traditionally broken down into four categories that include domesticated animals, domesticated plants, infectious diseases, and culture/technology. It was never an even exchange. Either the Eurasians or the native populations of the Americas would benefit more.

Clearly, more species of domesticated animals were brought to the Americas than were returned to Eurasia. Included among the animals moving to the American continents were the chicken, cat, cow, donkey, goat, goose, honey bee, rabbit, pig, sheep, and (even though they existed in the Western Hemisphere prior to human civilization) the horse and the camel. Domesticated animals that were transported to Eurasia included the alpaca, guinea pig, llama, and turkey.

Exchanges of domesticated plant species were closer to an even trade. Moving westward from Eurasia was the almond, apple, banana, barley, cantaloupe, carrot, cinnamon, coffee, garlic, grape, lettuce, oats, onion, pea, rice, sugarcane, and tea. Plants domesticated in the Americas then brought to Eurasia included beans, bell peppers, blueberries, cashews, cranberries, cocoa, cotton, corn, peanuts, pineapples, potatoes, pumpkins, rubber, strawberries, tobacco, tomatoes, vanilla, and zucchinis.

The final two categories were, without a doubt, detrimental to Native American peoples. While syphilis moved to Eurasia, the following infectious diseases decimated New World populations who had no natural immunities: chicken pox, cholera, influenza, leprosy, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid, typhus, yellow fever, the plague, malaria, and even the common cold.

Culture and technology represent the sharpest differences between the peoples of the Old World and the people of the New World. Indigenous American systems of collective economic production did not conform to the Eurasian emphasis on individual accumulation, and the tensions generated have deep roots in the colonization process. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an activist from the Philippines wrote, “Industrialized culture regards our values as unscientific obstacles to modernization and worthy of ridicule, suppression, and denigration. The industrial world views our political and social traditions as dangerous, and our consensus decision-making as antithetical to the capitalist hallmarks of individualism and private property.” 

Whether the Columbian Exchange was beneficial or not, it was certainly unavoidable. Discovery, exploitation, subjugation, and transformation of the strong over the weak are distinctly human phenomena.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

(William Shakespeare)

We are using this quote of Shakespeare’s to revisit the 150 year-old controversy about who really wrote “Shakespeare’s plays,” if it wasn’t himself. The controversy is based on two major arguments.

First, that Shakespeare was unable to write the works attributed to him due to his lack of education (some even claimed he was illiterate), his minimal grasp of aristocratic society, and his unfamiliarity with the way of life in the Royal court.

Second, other contemporary authors were more likely to be the real bards because of their writing styles and abilities. But due to legal problems, they were unable or unwilling to take the acknowledgement. Conspiracy theorists have, at various times, proposed that as many as several dozen others could have been the authors of Shakespeare’s 38 plays, 154 sonnets, and his other works.

Since the mid 1800’s, people interested in this controversy have divided themselves into “Shakespeareans” (supporting Shakespeare as the author) or “Anti-Stratfordians” (supporting another author, or authors, as writing these classics). Those convinced that Shakespeare was not the author primarily use circumstantial evidence to support their case. Shakespeareans lean on documentary evidence.

“Anti-Stratfordians” point to Shakespeare’s rural upbringing and lack of formal education as proof that he was not suited to write creatively. It is true that there is a lack of biographical information about Shakespeare, and no records of his attendance at school. There is even some evidence that his parents and children were illiterate. No hand written letters by Shakespeare exist, and among his signatures his surname is not spelled consistently. Yet supporters point out that other contemporary playwrights, like Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe, came from the same unremarkable background. Marlowe specifically was the same age as Shakespeare and came from a working class family in a rural area as well.

Some say his background did not include any exposure to court politics or the aristocratic culture that was so evident in his plays. Others contend that he was not even a writer, but a businessman and real estate investor. Yet the same method of attributing works to authors of the past (historical records and stylistic evaluation), have been used to substantiate Shakespeare’s writings. “Shakespeareans” note that his name appears on the title page of dozens of his plays and sonnets, and many of his literary colleagues confirmed his identity as a playwright.

Some Anti-Stratfordians argue that Shakespeare’s contemporaries had little regard for him. There was no public ceremony at his death and no eulogies or poems were published until seven years later. This is not true. Ben Jonson praised him in a published eulogy “To the Memory of My Beloved Author, Mr. William Shakespeare” in 1623. He wrote, “I loved the man, and do honor his memory as much as any.” Other eulogies and testimonies from poets and playwrights who worked with Shakespeare have been recorded - all identifying him as a gentleman and an author.

Others say Shakespeare was a front man for others; that his literary career was part of a conspiracy to hide the identity of another author. A number of well known literary people of the 19th Century believed this, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Mark Twain. Although he died a wealthy man, Shakespeare’s will directed the distribution of his estate but never mentions the financial rights to his 18 plays that were yet unpublished at the time of his death.

During the century following Shakespeare’s death, historian Sir George Buc was the “Master of the Revels” and his duty was to censor plays for the public, arrange court performances of plays, and to license plays for publication. He was meticulous in attributing books and plays to the correct author. He personally licensed William Shakespeare as the author of several of his plays.

Others say that Shakespeare’s writing included unusually strong similarities to the characters and events used in the writings of other authors. During the Elizabethan period, many authors wrote about similar historical themes, each using their own unique perspective. Shakespeare, not being classically trained, frequently made errors by mixing up Greek, Roman, and Trojan characters and events. This alone made his writing unique.

Beginning in 1987, studies were done using computer programs to compare Shakespeare’s stylistic habits with the works of 37 other authors of his time. The results showed that his writings were consistent, but different, from all the others. This eliminated those authors who the Anti-Stratfordians proposed as the real authors of the Shakespearean plays, including Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford), Francis Bacon, and Christopher Marlowe.

In 2007 a survey was taken among 2,300 Shakespeare professors about the authorship question. Did they think there was a good reason to doubt that Shakespeare wrote his own plays? Six percent said “yes,” 11% said “possibly,” 61% said there was “no convincing evidence,” and 22% said “it was a waste of time and a classroom distraction.”